Finding the right level of tolerance

Column by Michael Norton


So what is an acceptable level of tolerance? I guess the answer is really situational, as in some instances we can be or become extremely tolerant and in other cases find our patience being tried and maybe even fried.

Thresholds vary based on our personality and are shaped by our life experiences. For example, someone who has been living with chronic pain or frequent injuries may have built up a tolerance to pain. Treatments and therapies that used to be exceedingly painful have become more tolerable. Aches and pains that were so severe that they sidelined us from life's activities have given way to our desire to do more.

I know many people in this very situation right now. They are suffering from bad backs, hips, knees, cancer, diabetes and other debilitating diseases. I have seen these same people rise to the occasion and get themselves to an acceptable level of tolerance associated with their pain. The pain or hurt doesn't go away, it's just that over time they have conditioned themselves to accept as much as they possibly can.

What about at work? Where do we draw the line and hold people accountable for performance and productivity? What is our acceptable level of tolerance when either our staff or our managers are not working at the expected level of performance? We can choose to ignore it and hope it will get better, which never works, or we can have a calm and productive discussion and re-set expectations for everyone.

I know for me personally, as a leader or manager and even as an employee, I always felt like others were not keeping up with my pace. This included my managers and senior executives. In this case it was not a matter of having a discussion with others and re-setting expectations, it was about me realizing that I needed to adjust my acceptable level of tolerance. Once I made that adjustment and got to that point of acceptance, I became less resentful and much more productive.

How much are we tolerating in our relationships? Do our partners, spouses, children, parents, and friends support us and do everything they can to make us feel appreciated, respected and loved? And if not, do we accept that, sweep it under the rug, and again hope that it gets better? It never works. We need to share with everyone what we are willing to accept and tolerate and what we are not. And as difficult as that may sound, once the conversations have happened in most cases things will begin to get much better.

And as a consumer, as a customer, what is our acceptable level of tolerance? We can choose to continue to shop or eat or drink at places where we don't feel appreciated and receive poor service, or we can decide that there are probably better options, a store, restaurant or bar where the attention to customer service and quality surpasses our expectations.

The point is this: We are in control. We get to determine what we will accept and what we will not. We set the thresholds of tolerance, not anyone else. It is a freeing and liberating feeling when we finally get to that point and our opportunities to enjoy life increase proportionally.

How about you — what are you willing to tolerate? I would love to hear all about it at, and my hope is that this will be a better than good week for you.

Michael Norton, a resident of Highlands Ranch, is the former president of the Zig Ziglar organization and CEO and founder of

michael norton, zig ziglar, highlands ranch, colorado


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